Lines started forming around Seattle’s Key Arena Wednesday night for an annual four-day free health care clinic that began early Thursday morning.
Donna Smith drove from Vancouver, Washington, to get a filling. She arrived shortly before 10 p.m. to wait in line.
“I’ll finally be able to eat on that side now,” she said. “It’s just amazing to see everyone coming together to help other people out.”
Also lined up early was Bruce, who said he comes to the clinic every year for care that his insurance doesn’t cover, like dental care, acupuncture, chiropractic services and foot care.
Bruce, who did not want to be identified with his full name, has a part-time job, is on Medicare and a fixed income.
“I live kind of a solitary life, a lot of it by choice, but there are times I like just coming and having people take care of me and pamper me,” Bruce said with a laugh. “That's actually the main reason I come.”
But there is one thing that won’t be available this year – free shoes. Bruce said the last three years, he got new athletic shoes here. But this year, he saw a sign saying that would not be available.
Like Bruce, Desiree Kramer has medical insurance, but it doesn’t cover her eye care. “It's kinda sad that we have people with health insurance — here — who can't afford to go to the doctor,” she said.
Some of the people who are waiting are in a life and death predicament. Aida Mares can't get a liver transplant because of her teeth. She said she needs to get several removed in order to get a transplant.
John Merner, director of Seattle Center's community programming, said the need for the clinic continues to grow every year and clinic is expecting at least a thousand patients per day.
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, nearly 600 people had been processed to receive care, with hundreds more waiting in line at Fisher Pavilion.
"One of the things that we didn't anticipate when we first started was the enormity of the need four years ago. And how, no matter what, there are always people who fall through the cracks. And we anticipate that that has just grown," Merner said.
This is the fourth year that the clinic has hosted dental, vision and other medical services. Last year about 4,500 people were served.
No identification or proof of citizenship is needed. The patient waiting area opens up after midnight, at 12:30 a.m. The free clinic opens Thursday at 6:30 a.m. and goes through Sunday.
Liz Jones and Stephen Gomes contributed to this reporting.